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The South's Next Big (Sports) Thing?

Posted: Jun 08, 2007

There it was - for the whole nation to see. The Major League Baseball Draft made its television debut Thursday. It was nice to see Peter Gammons talking about the players many of us have seen compete over the last few months. I believe ESPN’s choice to air the draft is just another symbol of how much college baseball is growing. Along with the World Series in Omaha, we will also get national TV coverage of the “super regionals” this weekend. Attendance was huge at regionals hosted by Arkansas, Texas and Mississippi last weekend. Vanderbilt added over a thousands seats for their regional and sold it completely out.

We all know how much the fans in our Swampland footprint love their college teams. Football tends to dominate in Big 12 South and SEC country (exception Kentucky) while basketball garners more attention in ACC land (exception FSU/Miami). Football and basketball are usually the only two revenue sports on those college campuses, but that is changing as baseball continues to grow. Places like LSU and Mississippi State already “pay for themselves” and that list is expanding throughout the South. The Georgia/Georgia Tech game at Turner Field drew over 20,000 fans this year.

Obviously the success of teams helps the growth of college baseball. The ACC had four of the eight participants in last year’s World Series. The SEC had four of the eight in 2004. Additionally, Texas and Rice have won national Titles in the last five years. Another factor that has the attention of many fans is that the gap between college baseball and the Major Leagues is becoming smaller each season. Three first-rounders (Brandon Morrow-Mariners; Andrew Miller-Tigers; Tim Lincecum-Giants) from the 2006 Draft have already played in the Majors this season. First rounders from the 2005 Draft such as Ryan Zimmerman, Alex Gordon, and Troy Tulowitski are already starting in the Big Leagues. As this trend continues -seeing elite players at your local school one season and in the Majors the next - the connection between fans and college baseball will continue to flourish.

It will be interesting over the next five years to see how college baseball and its media coverage expand. There may be a day in the future where the 64-team regional tournament becomes a mini-version of March Madness. I know the fans throughout the South will lead the way as they continue to support their baseball teams in record numbers.

- Patrick Snow

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